what January 2020 sounded like


Despite the portentous title, this is a round up of things I was sent by nice PR people that sounded interesting, since I said at some point a while ago that I’d do this regularly (and why not?) so here they are, in alphabetical order, because that’s simplest.

Artist: Collectress
Title: Different Geographies
Label: Peeler Records
Release Date: 6 March

I mentioned it here, but have to say more about it now that I know it a little better. If their previous album Mondegreen sounded like music from a benignly haunted doll’s house, Different Geographies has the same gently spooky charm, but takes (even by their standards) strange departures,  like on Mauswork, where their oddly Victorian string arrangements blend with electronic elements, or the beautifully wistful single In The Streets, In The Fields, a truly timeless melange of strings and modern sounding percussive elements and howling noises; which sounds much prettier than that description would suggest. Even within the album – and its individual pieces – it’s unpredictable and hard to define, with songs like the busy Landscape taking unexpected twists and turns during its five and a half minutes.
As with all of Collectress’s work, the music on Different Geographies is strongly visual and does strange things to time; a magical, otherworldly record full of delicate moods and strange musical non-sequiturs.

Artist: Little Albert
Title: Swamp King
Label: Aural Music
Release Date: 27 March

I’m always a bit dubious of the blues as a style, rather than as the product of a specific, African-American culture from a specific time period, but since it definitely is one (and really, if one can accept Eric Clapton as a blues musician then anything goes), I can say that this is a very cool sounding record, notwithstanding that it was made by a young white Italian guy (Alberto Piccolo) best known for his work in doom metal band Messa. Doom is of course the closest metal comes to the blues, and there’s a monolithic, Black Sabbath quality to some of the songs here, notably the cover of Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs. In fact, it’s a pretty good album if you like gritty, bass heavy blues of the late-60s type; it sounds great, and the most worrisome factor, Alberto’s vocals, are actually really good; his voice isn’t as powerful as his guitar playing, but emerging from the darkness with a hint of reverb it’s more than acceptable. With all the caveats that come with a heavy blues album from 2020, Swamp King is kind of awesome.

Artist: Nuclear Winter
Title: Night Shift
Label: self-release
Release Date: 7th February

Very polished, melodic death metal (at times almost like death-power metal) from Zimbabwe, this is essentially not my cup of tea at all. I’m always curious to hear music from places not normally associated with that kind of music and sometimes (there’s a great Saigon Rock and Soul album that I think I’ve mentioned before, also that Mongol Metal split from 2015 and last year’s compilation Brutal Africa of death metal from Botswana) it really shows artists approaching familiar musical ideas from a really different perspective. Here it doesn’t; with no disrespect to Gary Stautmeister – who wrote, played and sang everything here aside from some guest vocals – this is an album of classy modern death metal which could have just as easily come from Sweden, France or wherever. The plus points are that he writes cool riffs (Blueshift) and solos, can do both raw and melodic vocals well, as well as writing proper songs. The minuses – well, none if you love this kind of music. I can absolutely imagine Nuclear Winter signed to a label like Relapse or Nuclear Blast; he’s very good at what he does and if you like those Scarve/Sybreed type of bands, give it a go.

Artist: Pia Fraus
Title: Empty Parks
Label: Seksound/Vinyl Junkie
Release Date: 20 January

Something like an Estonian Slowdive-meets-Drop Nineteens, Pia Fraus have been around for ages (22 years!) and this is their millionth (I think sixth) album. It has a great title and is incredibly nice. As shoegazey/dreampop type albums go it’s pretty upbeat, wistfully happy, rather than wistfully sad and mostly relatively up-tempo with at times (like Love Sports) a Stereolab kind of texture.
The female (Eve) and male (Rein) vocals go very nicely together (hence the Slowdive/Drop Nineteens comparisons, they are rarely – exception; Slow Boat Fades Out – quite as ethereal as My Bloody Valentine) and although it’s hard to choose highlights from an album where all eleven songs are quite similar, it stayed nice all the way through without getting boring* and never became twee, so that’s an achievement in itself. I don’t know enough of the band’s other work to say how good the album is by their standards, but if you like the atmosphere of those Sarah Records, Field Mice kind of bands, but not their ramshackle amateurishness, this is highly recommended.

*if you’re in the mood for pop-shoegaze. If you’re not I imagine it would be extraordinarily dull

Artist: Revenant Marquis
Title: Youth In Ribbons
Label: Inferna Profundus
Release Date: 20 January

British black metal of the ultra-mysterious one-nameless-entity type, I really liked the imagery and atmosphere surrounding the album before I even heard it and the music didn’t disappoint. It’s the (I think) fourth RM album, but I’ve only heard bits and pieces before so I guess I’ll have to get the others now. Murky, very rough (it sounds loud even when played quietly), atmospheric and extremely black, it reminds me of early Xasthur and the chaotic obscure nastiness of Manierisme, though it’s never quite that eccentric. The key to its non-crapiness is that, just about gleaming through the surface noise and thunderous rumbling are strange queasy melodies, often simple but very effective and, crucially for this kind of music, every aspect (music/lyrics – insofar as one can make them out/themes/imagery) works together to make something bigger than the sum of those parts. And though the album rarely really gets better than the superb opening duo of Menstruation (a kind of ceremonial intro) and Ephebiphobia (actual black metal), it maintains that quality throughout. Hating teenagers and school (specifically Tasker Milward School; a moody highlight is The Blood Of Lady Tasker) is, oddly, a theme that runs through the album, though I guess that’s no less than the title promises. Loved it.

Artist: Sunny Jain
Title: Wild Wild East
Label: Smithsonian Folkways
Release Date: 21 February

After a Zappa-ish opening fanfare, Indian-American percussionist Sunny Jain and his excellent band bring together a vibrant and sometimes slightly indigestible mix of Morricone-esque rock and jazz with south Asian elements. It’s very good; at times it reminded me a bit of one of the all-time great soundtracks, Rahul Dev Burman’s Yaadon Ki Baaraat, but also the superb Kaada/Patton album Bacteria Cult. At times the album takes on a droning quality which gives it a very positive, summery feel, but at times, most noticeably on Osian, that becomes a loud, busy, blaring quality and a few more of the beautiful, quiet moments would have made it an easier record to love. That said, I haven’t heard anything else quite like it and it’ll definitely be on my playlist for a while.


Inevitably, the Releases of the Year 2017 (part two)


The list continues, at this point with no rhyme or reason and in no particular order, so…

The Doom Trip label went from strength to strength in 2017. The Doom Mix Vol 1. compilation should be heard as a matter of course (personal favourite: the brilliantly atmospheric Sink Into Skin by Unbloom that reminds me of post-punk/early goth things like Bauhaus and The Cure but has a tune I haven’t heard before), but in addition they released some fantastic albums this year, the two standouts (for me) being –

Rangers – Texas Rock Bottom 

Rangers – Texas Rock Bottom

I haven’t heard a lot of Rangers’ previous stuff, but the bits I remember are kind of lo-fi/psych/chillwave/Ariel Pink-ish – no bad thing, but not really my thing. Texas Rock Bottom is a different beast entirely. More song-based, it has a timeless melodic appeal, in some ways reminiscent of the more laid-back US indie rock of the 80s/90s, like The Replacements or early REM, with a Byrdsian jangle but also some distinctively underground/indie quirks; It’s really good.




Skyjelly – Blank Panthers/Priest, Expert Or Wizard

Skyjelly – Blank Panthers/Priest, Expert Or Wizard

This long, bizarre album/double album is an ear/brain-addling mix of yammering experimental things: psychedelia/krautrock/punk/no wave/pop/noise and stuff like that – it’s not all great, but there’s so much of it, and it’s so completely peculiar that after months of listening I’m still not used to it, but it’s still good.





My Favourite Things – Fly I Will, Because I Can (self-release)

My Favourite Things – Fly I Will, Because I Can

I can’t remember how I came across  Dorothea Tachler’s Brooklyn-based band, My Favourite Things, but their self-released album Fly I Will, Because I Can became one of my favourite things (…) in 2017. Melancholy, warm and dreamy, Tachler and her bandmates have created an affecting, beautiful and strangely intimate listening experience. I kind of don’t want anyone else to like it, but I also want everyone to hear it; that kind of album.



Grift – Arvet (Nordvis)

Grift – Arvet

I’m not sure that I like Arvet quite as much as Grift’s brilliant debut Syner; but I’m almost certain that it’s a better album. In many ways it’s very similar – bare, sparse, wintry pastoral black metal-inflected but very individualistic atmospheric music. In fact, Erik Gärdefors’ vision has barely changed, perhaps it’s just that it’s familiar to me now, so feels less like a forlorn soul wandering the woods and more like Grift; great album either way.




More to follow, no doubt!



Play For Today – Current Playlist 3rd January 2017


A new year, a (slightly) new look, yet another playlist! This time, things I am listening to as the year begins, including (naturally) some things that I got for Christmas…


  1. Patti Smith – Radio Ethiopia (Arista, 1976)

2. IC Rex – Tulen jumalat (Saturnal, 2017)

3. Aidan Baker w. Claire Brentnall – Delirious Things (Gizeh Records, 2017)

4. Kristin Hersh – The Grotto (4AD, 2003)

5. Jeff Parker – The New Breed (International Anthem, 2016)

6. Scott Walker  – Pola X (soundtrack, Barclay Records, 1999)



7. Wardruna – Runaljod; gap var Ginnunga (Indie Recordings, 2009)

8. Hardingrock – Grimen (Candlelight Records, 2007)

9. Endalok – Úr Draumheimi Viðurstyggðar Signal Rex, 2017)

10. A Tree Grows – Wau Wau Water (Rufftone Records, 2016)

11. Kristin Hersh – Crooked (Throwing Music, 2010)

12. The Beach Boys – Holland (Brother/Reprise, 1973)

13. Ela Orleans – Circles of Upper and Lower Hell (Night School Records, 2016)

14. Julie’s Haircut – Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin (Rocket Recordings, 2017)

15. Yurei – Night Vision (Adversum, 2012)

16. Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now (Sub-Pop, 2017)

17. Christine Ott, Tabu (Gizeh Records, 2016)

18. The Veldt – In A Quiet Room (Leonard Skully Records, 2017)

The Veldt by Christopher Harold Wells
The Veldt by Christopher Harold Wells

19. Kiss – Dynasty (Casablanca, 1979)

20. Heikki Sarmanto Serious Music Ensemble – The Helsinki Tapes Vol 2 (Svart Records, 2016)

Inevitably, the releases of the year, 2016 (Part Two)


Here are some more of the things I thought were good this year

Vaguely (or very) shoegaze-related releases of the year

I didn’t like the term ‘shoegaze’ back in the early 90s and I don’t like it now. I dislike ‘dreampop’ even more. Neo-shoegaze has now got to the point that original shoegaze got to; 99% of it is boring. But I do like some of it and these were good:

Stella Diana – Nitocris (self-release)


Naples shoegaze trio Stella Diana seem to be influenced mainly by the less experimental end of the original shoegaze scene (Just For A Day-era Slowdive with a pinch of Ride), rather than My Bloody Valentine or Curve, but on this, their third album, it all comes together with some quality songwriting and excellent performances.



Minor Victories – Minor Victories (Fat Possum Records)


I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would in fact; but it’s definitely a good album. As with so many ‘supergroup’ records, a bit underwhelming and boring overall, but the good bits, like ‘For You Always’, (where, as usual, Mark Kozelek makes one wish he seemed to be as likeable as he is talented) are so good that it’s definitely worth checking out.



Alcest – Kodama (Prophecy Productions)


For me, Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde is still the perfect Alcest album, the one where the shoegaze and black metal elements blended most seamlessly and where Neige’s vision seemed most clear and fresh. But Kodama is the best he’s made since then, the reintroduction of the metal elements slicing away some of the flabbiness of Shelter. The striking artwork and design of the album also rekindled the spark which had become somewhat mellow over time.



Daniel Land – In Love With A Ghost (self-release)


More singer-songwriter oriented than the other releases here, Daniel Land’s In Love With A Ghost meshes a strongly atmospheric dreampop feel with a very human, rather than celestial approach. His songs; sad, happy, richly lyrical, have everything to do with real life, making this the most approachable and loveable shoegaze(ish) album I’ve heard this year.



More non-genre-specific Releases of the Year

The Vision Bleak – The Unknown (Prophecy Productions)


Even without the conceptual baggage of their previous albums, The Vision Bleak’s latest opus is an overpoweringly rich and theatrical work of gothic melancholy. Konstanz and Schwadorf’s art will never be for everyone, but The Unknown is as accessible and as eccentric as anything the duo have recorded.



Kaada/Patton – Bacteria Cult (Ipecac Recordings)


In terms of time spent listening, Bacteria Cult may actually be my release of the year; the pairing of Mike Patton and Norwegian composer John Erika Kaada makes most of Patton’s other collaborations feel like novelty acts. Sweeping, epic, beautiful, funny and atmospheric, the music on this album is great as background or foreground and I am yet to be bored by it.



Jozef van Wissem – When Shall This Bright Day Begin (Consouling Sounds)


I wrote a detailed review of this great album for Echoes and Dust so will keep this short. This is a beautiful and haunting album of wistful (non-traditional) lute music with some experimental elements. It doesn’t sound like anything else in my Releases of the Year.



Darkher – Realms (Prophecy Productions)


An unclassifiable album of darkly romantic, sort of gothic (but without being theatrical) mood music. So immersively atmospheric that it takes a while to realise just how tightly written and well constructed Jayn H Wissenberg’s songs are.



Rachel Mason – Das Ram (Cleopatra Records (LP) / Practical Records (cassette)

Matthew Spiegelman

I wrote extensively about this album here but since it was very nearly my album of the year, here’s a bit more: Rachel Mason has produced so much, in so many fields – performance art/sculpture/filmmaking/music, etc (check out her website for a cross-section) – that it’s easy to immerse oneself in her work. In music alone she is amazingly prolific and has amassed a vast and crazily varied discography (fourteen albums, plus various collaborations) within just a few years. Das Ram is a bold, exciting and accessible album, utterly different from the acoustic/folk rock textures of Mason’s earlier works like Turtles or Hamilton Fish… and even further removed from the raw, homemade quality of Gayley Manor Songs.  Only a handful of artists have convincingly made a gesamstkunstwerk in the idiom of popular music without falling into the trap of overblown pretension – and most of those have spread from within the music world outwards. With Das Ram, Rachel Mason has become one of an even more select group – an artist who has learned to express herself with equal authority in whatever medium she chooses – and who seems to have fun doing it.




Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp  


Deceptively cheerful lo-fi indie pop with incisive tunes and lots of heart



Blizaro – Cornucopia della Morte (I, Voidhanger)


John Gallo’s Goblin-worshipping occult synth doom rock(?) is at its best on 2013’s Strange Doorways compilation, but when this album is great, it’s really great.



Nox – Ancestral Arte Negro (Forever Plagued Records)


Pure Colombian brutal-but-atmospheric black metal – short, to the point; perfect.




More to come….

Play For Today – Current Playlist 25th November 2016


After many delays, another week, another playlist…

1. Kristin Hersh – Wyatt At The Coyote Palace (Omnibus Books, 2016) Review herekristin-again

2. Stench Price – Stench Price EP (Transcending Obscurity Records, 2016)

3. Baby Tears – Succubus Slides (Choice Records, 2016)

4. Bethlehem – Bethlehem (Prophecy Productions, 2016)

5. The History of Colour TV – Wreck (Cranes Records / Weird Books, 2016)

6. Lush – Gala (4AD, 1990)

7. A Tree Grows – Wau Wau Water (Rufftone Records, 2016)

8. Kristin Hersh – Sunny Border Blue (4AD, 2001)

9. LL CoolJ – Radio (Def Jam, 1985)

10. Rachel Mason – Das Ram (Cleopatra Records/Practical Records, 2016) Review here!

11. Ela Orleans – Circles of Upper and Lower Hell (Night School Records, 2016)

12. Eric Dolphy – Out To Lunch! (Blue Note, 1964)


13. Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever (BMG, 1997)

14. Paul K – Omertà (2016)

15. Christine Ott, Tabu (Gizeh Records, 2016)

16. The Raspberries – The Raspberries (Capitol Records, 1972)

17. Isasa – Los Días (La Castanya, 2016)

18. Daniel Land – In Love With A Ghost (2016)

19. Miles Davis – Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1971)

20. Matriarch – Revered Unto The Ages (self-release, 2007)



Weekly update: the charm of the EP


This Friday’s weekly musings have a specific subject: the ‘Extended Play’ (EP):

Just when the album as a physical format seemed to be dying out, the (somewhat overstated) vinyl renaissance came along, reiterating the obvious; that songs are great, but sometimes a collection of songs, sequenced in a certain way, is even better. But what of the EP? Of all the available ways of collecting recorded music (apart, of course, from the cassette single/“cassingle”) the EP has always had the least secure place in the pantheon of formats. Actually pre-dating the LP (for practical/technical reasons; it was easier to fit a few songs on a piece of shellac or vinyl with the cutting equipment available), once the long-player became available it inevitably eclipsed the EP in ‘value for money’ terms. That said, early album reviewers often complained about the amount of lesser quality music that padded out LPs – but the ‘extended play’ was nevertheless sidelined, although most major artists continued to release them sporadically.

The virtues of the EP remain obvious though; at their best they are essentially albums without filler (and at a lower price); and indeed throughout the early 90s many indie bands (especially in the shoegaze scene) produced their best, most representative work on EPs. But all this is because a couple of things I’ve heard this week reminded me of the virtues of the format because they exemplify them perfectly:

Dia – Tiny Ocean (Manimal Records)


Tiny Ocean is the debut release by Dia (composer/singer Danielle Birrittella) and it’s a beautifully complete, mature and rich piece of work, based somewhere in the realms of shoegaze, cinematic, baroque pop and folkish singer-songwriterdom, but not quite belonging to any of those genres. Quick summary –

Opening song ‘Covered In Light’ is like a gorgeously extended lush swoon, Danielle’s angelic vocals floating on a velvety cushion of ethereal synth and strings. By contrast ‘Synchronized Swimming’, though no less melodious, is tuneful, percussive and achingly wistful, the musical texture more organic and less unearthly. It’s an outstanding, lovely piece of work and perhaps the most affecting of the songs on the EP. ‘Tiny Ocean’ drifts in on a warm haze of strings and flows peacefully but mournfully, a soothingly downbeat track with a beautifully subtle melody. The waltz-time, ukulele-led ‘Gambling Girl’ strips the sound back before building into full-blown baroque pop with an outstanding vocal performance, while ‘St Paul’ is a short but very sweet folk-tinged lament and the EP (which is very nearly an album) ends on a high with the insistent beat and languorous melody of ‘Big Man’ leaving a warm, tingling silence in its wake.


Tiny Ocean’s perfection is reinforced both by its rich, seamless sound, courtesy of some well-known producers (Joey Waronker, Tim Carr and Frankie Siragusa) and also Danielle Birrittella’s talent for knowing when a mood/tempo change is required. Dia differs in this respect from much dreampop (which it resembles to an extent); its sweetness – at least in EP form – is never overpowering or boring. The richness of sound is necessary with all the layers involved – indeed, it’s impossible to imagine Dia’s music in a rough, demo state, although it’s probably just as lovely – but in the end the sound, wonderful though it is, wouldn’t mean much without the excellent songs to justify it.

Dia Website

Dia on Facebook

Dia on Instagram

A contrast in almost every way is …

Debz – Extended Play (Choice Records)


The self-explanatorily titled debut EP by New York’s Debz is brash, trashy, smart, new wave-influenced snotty lo-fi punk-meets-synth pop and its seven short songs are a peculiar but very potent and refreshing mixture of swagger and vulnerability, dismissive scorn and detached heartbreak.

The more aggressive songs like ‘Plastic Wrap’,‘A Real Romance’ and ‘Lobster Eggs and Maggots’ are minimalist grungy punk rock with great primitive drumming, tons of attitude and Debz’ imperious, slightly robotic singing voice. It’s not just posturing punkiness though; the strident, bleak and alienated “Did I Die” is one of several songs that cut deeper than my introduction might suggest.  In fact, there’s a surprising range of mood in the (relatively) more gentle songs, like the self-referential pop culture collage of “Barbizon” and the surprisingly tender and desolate “Love, Love, Love, Love. Love”. The uncomfortable but addictive mix of ebullience and bleakness carries through to the final, very short primitive synth-led track, “Big Time Baby”.

They may be at different ends of the stylistic spectrum, but in its own gaudy, dayglo way, Extended Play is every bit as much a work of art as Tiny Ocean is; abrasive and appealing, it’s a perfectly formed EP and, better still, it’s available on 7” vinyl, which I will be purchasing shortly.


Debz’ website

Debz’ twitter

and that’s all for now!


Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside) – “shoegaze” 1988 – 1993


First a note: this is not an exhaustive exploration of the (for want of a better term) shoegaze genre. It’s extremely subjective, being based on my own memories and tastes c.1990-2 and therefore has some glaring omissions (unaccountably I never really heard much of the Cocteau Twins. More accountably, I didn’t like Catherine Wheel very much) and takes no account whatsoever of neo-shoegaze or the careers of the bands mentioned below after the period covered.


small but perfectly formed…

Nowadays, when even the format of the album is under threat from the ability to download single songs, EPs (always a lesser format) seem ephemeral or even pointless. It was not always so, however; although posterity has made Just For A Day and maybe even Whirlpool and Ferment into ‘classic albums’, those who were around at the time will remember that virtually every shoegaze album was initially regarded as a disappointment upon release, and all were completely eclipsed by My Bloody Valentine’s genre defining/destroying Loveless when it finally emerged from its long gestation (or what seemed at the time a long gestation; compared with m b v (finally released in 2013), Loveless seems almost hastily thrown together).


That the genre is ideally suited to the format of the EP partly has to do with style; although no two shoegaze bands sounded as alike as their contemporary detractors claimed, it’s true to say that effects-laden guitars, wistful vocals and hazy, dreamy atmospheres predominated – and these things are on the whole more effective in small doses. Likewise, the subject matter of the majority of these bands was enigmatic and allusive rather than forthright or obvious – understanding lyrics (or even singing along to them) is by no means a prerequisite for good music, but it does give an album a focal point aside from the overall sound; in the majority of shoegaze records the vocals are an integral part of that sound and often the lyrics are barely audible.

EPs, singles and even mini-albums were therefore the ideal way to experience the style:
and all of the key (and minor) bands in the scene produced their best work over series’ of three or four-song 12″ records, right from the dawn of the style.

The architects of shoegaze

cocteauThrough the early/mid 80s, The Cocteau Twins were undeniably key in establishing a guitar based, semi-ambient sound and, simultaneously The Jesus and Mary Chain made feedback and sheer noise a part of the overground rock/pop scene. Some aspects of the sound that became shoegaze can be traced back further, to the post-punk scene (notably The Cure, still very much a vital part of the music scene in the late 80s.early 90s), but it is really these two bands that should be considered the real architects of shoegaze. In their wake came the 80s indie scene in gene
ral, with bands like The House of Love and The Smiths, who would influence pretty much all UK indie one way or the other from around 1984 onwards.


Baby Talk…

‘Shoegaze’ proper really kicked off in August 1988, with My Bloody Valentine’s You Made Me Realise EP.
Although MBV had been releasing records since ’85, until You Made Me Realise, the band’s sound was far more traditional, with a jangly 60s, post-Smiths, C86/twee quality very different from their aggressive, feedback and effects-laden mature sound. 1987 single Strawberry Wine is a case in point; essentially it is very similar to a song like Thorn from the You Made Me Realise EP; both songs are fast-paced indie pop, characterised by Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher’s vocal harmonies, Colm Ó Cíosóig’s dynamic, aggressive percussion and layers of MBV you madeguitars. On Strawberry Wine, though, the guitar sound is the chiming, jangly, Byrds-influenced sound then popular in the UK indie scene. On Thorn, the underlying track is not that different, but on top of the base layer of strummed guitars, the melody is formed, not by a 12-string Rickenbacker-ish sound, but by the highly peculiar vacuum cleaner-like mechanised howl of Kevin Shields’ heavily distorted guitar. Even if Thorn wasn’t a better song than Strawberry Wine (but it is), the guitar adds not only a unique sound to the song, but it also intensifies its stormy, melancholy atmosphere. This was a key feature of shoegaze that all of the best bands brought to their music; not only was the voice another instrument, the guitar was another voice.

MBV isnt

MBV followed up You Made Me Realise uncharacteristically quickly with their debut full-length album Isn’t Anything. Iconic though it is, it demonstrates exactly why the EP is the format of shoegaze: even a relatively short 40-ish minutes of disorientating, backwards-sounding, intense and mysterious hazy intensity is a bit much without the voice of .a singer like Elizabeth Fraser bringing it all together. Anyway, the impact of You Made Me Realise was pretty immediate; by October ’89, one of the first new young bands made its debut: Lush, with their Scar mini-album.



Lush 1With Scar, Lush not only established a distinct musical identity based around the opposing forces of Cocteau Twins-esque fragility (enhanced by the – typically – ‘ethereal’ vocal harmonies of Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson) and prickly, punky bitterness, they also created an instantly recognisable aesthetic. 4AD – always the most coffee-table-book-friendly indie label – should have been a natural home for the shoegaze scene, but in fact Lush and Pale Saints were (I think) the only shoegaze bands aside from The Cocteau Twins (always somewhat aloof from the ‘scene’) to benefit from the label’s invariably evocative artwork and Creation became the shoegaze label. The six songs on Scar were uniformly excellent, but the production (by John Fryer, with the band) was serviceable but lacked sparkle, something rectified on the band’s next (and best) release:

Mad Love EP (1990)

Lush 2This EP exemplifies the best of the shoegaze scene; four excellent songs, no fillers (and it is surprising how many bands couldn’t record an EP without at least one lesser song), each song catchy and atmospheric but no two very alike.
This time round the production was in the hands of the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie, indie royalty, and of course the main architect of the kind of pretty noise (and it is worth remembering that, despite their ‘niceness’ most shoegaze records included the kind of abstract noise that was definitely not a normal part of chart music) that Lush were working with. Alongside three new songs (all better than anything on Scar) there is a sparkling rerecording of Thoughtforms, the somewhat leaden sound of the Scar version replaced by something more scintillating.
Lush 3Later that year, the band released Sweetness and Light, their most commercial, hook-laden record, the poppy a-side backed with two even more lighter-than-air songs, both pretty good. At the same time, it was becoming clear from interviews and TV appearances that the band were not quite the fey, angelic characters they mostly sounded like on record. By ’91 the shoegaze scene was, if not in decline, at least on a plateau, and Lush’s singles Black Spring and For Love were far patchier than their previous work. There were still great songs, but what had been ethereal had started to become watery and unmemorable and the band’s tougher songs jettisoned the shoegaze idiom for something more proto-Britpop/mainstream indie-rock-ish. Which is not what I am writing about.

Luckily, 4AD seemed to notice this watershed and released an album bringing together all the band’s work up to Sweetness and Light. Gala, especially in its lavishly packaged LP form, is all you need to know about Lush the shoegaze band, and one of the great monuments of the genre.

Lush 4


RideRide 1The month before Lush’s Mad Love went on sale, a young band from Oxford released their self-titled debut EP. Ride is not as perfect as Mad Love but it established a sound that was more pop-oriented than My Bloody Valentine, but with a heavier, noisier guitar sound than Lush. Ride balanced the unabashedly indie-pop sound of Chelsea Girl with the heavier Drive Blind (with its psychedelic, flickering guitar part strangely reminiscent of the intro to Status Quo’s ludicrous 1967 psych-pop classic Pictures of Matchstick Men) and the more reflective All I Can See and noisy Close My Eyes. The band’s sound was defined by the gentle harmony vocals of Mark Gardener and Andy Bell, whose voices bore a passing resemblance to that of MBV’s Kevin Shields, but where his voice often stayed buried, semi-coherently in the mix, Ride put their harmonies in centre stage.

Ride 2

In the summer of 1990, Ride released the eminently summery Play EP. Again, the band showcased a heavier indie rock sound, softened by the mellow Englishness of the vocals, but never as wispy and insubstantial as the scene’s detractors sometimes claimed.
The Fall EP was released in September and was another strong release, but although I remember a Melody Maker journalist claiming slightly later that the shoegaze (the then-derogatory term was coined around this time) bands were sapping their strength by releasing streams of EPs instead of saving their strength for an album, Ride were one of the few whose debut full-length (Nowhere, released a month after Fall) was actually stronger than the EPs which preceded it.
Ride 3By the time Nowhere was released, ‘shoegaze’ was at its height, with critical reactions from the music press (in those days a little more influential than now, especially on the UK indie scene) outweighed by support, especially from Melody Maker.
Ride were also wise in that they (more or less) jettisoned their shoegaze sound at the right time, the more 60s-pop/prog influenced Going Blank Again proving to be their biggest selling album. But before they moved on, the band released their most perfectly realised work, the Today Forever EP, four contrasting but still definitely ‘shoegaze’ oriented songs.



Slowdive 1If Ride were more strident and rock than Lush, then Slowdive were everything shoegaze’s critics hated about the scene: mellow, melancholy, dreamy, slow (of course), fragile. But that’s not all they were: their self-titled debut, released at the end of the autumn in 1990, was a seriously noisy release, for all its snails-pace tempos. The beautiful foghorn guitar of the title track was closer to the sound of My Bloody Valentine’s (as yet unreleased) magnum opus Loveless than any of their peers, and the way the delicate Slowdive 2female/male vocals of Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead drift through the massive soundscapes of guitar noise was distinctly different from the other bands of the genre. 1991’s Morningrise EP was another near-perfect EP but Holding Our Breath, released not long before debut album Just For A Day suggested, despite the presence of one of their most popular songs, Catch the Breeze, that the band had painted themselves into a corner; the distorted noise and feedback of the first EP had been smoothed into something altogether cleaner and more melodic, but without the stormy holding_frontatmospherics, the sound of Just for a Day sometimes veered uncomfortably towards a kind of ‘Shoegaze Moods’ new age muzak.

Unlike Ride and Lush though, Slowdive’s second LP Souvlaki, released in 1993 after the death of shoegaze, was probably their strongest work.

slowdive LPs

Other bands
Shoegaze was not a vast scene, but at its height, EPs more-or-less in its style(s) proliferated almost weekly. The following are a few bands who excelled on EPs:

CurveBlindfold (1991), Frozen (1991), Cherry (1991)

Curve appeared fully formed in 1991, with the slick and accomplished Blindfold EP. Despite very positive reviews, there was a certain amount of suspicion of the band in the indie press because the duo – Toni Halliday, (probably the shoegaze pinup, though not my personal one) and Dean Garcia – had links to various mainstream pop artists, having worked with Eurythmics and having attempted a mainstream pop career as State of Play in the 80s. Curve were important, though, in that they brought electronic elements and dance beats to the shoegaze genre, not to mention the only (to my knowledge) appearance of a rapper on a shoegaze song, namely JC-001, who appears – surprisingly successfully – on Ten Little Girls. Curve’s first three EPs were consistently strong, but their debut full-length Doppelganger (1992) was the archetypical disappointing shoegaze album, partly, as with Slowdive, because more than four or five songs in the band’s style becomes something of an endurance test.


ChapterhouseFreefall (1990)

Chapterhouse bore the brunt of the music press’ disaffection with shoegaze, and indeed their discography is on the whole one of the weaker ones of the scene. Freefall is probably the best of their EPs, although lead track Falling Down (a Curve-like funky dance/shoegaze crossover) has not aged as well as one would like. For the best of Chapterhouse see the list at the bottom of this article.


The Boo RadleysAdrenalin EP (1992)

It’s hard not to hate The Boo Radleys for Wake Up Boo etc, but all of their early EPs (and their debut album Ichabod & I) are all worthy of investigation. Adrenalin features Lazy Day, one of the finest shoegaze-pop songs of the period, the perfect marriage of pop hooks and blurry noise, and satisfyingly short too.

boo radleys

MooseCool Breeze (1991)

Moose, like Chapterhouse, seemed to come along just as the music press was growing weary of the shoegaze genre, but the three EPs they released in 1991 form a body of work with a very distinct personality and charm. Cool Breeze is the best of these, four perfect, sparse and autumnal pop songs, simple but inventive. Somewhat surprisingly, the band’s debut album XYZ was good too, despite an unexpected segue into mellow Americana.


Drop NineteensWinona (1992)

Labelmates of Moose (on Hut Records), Boston’s Drop Nineteens were (I think) the only US band to fully embrace the shoegaze sound, and their single Winona is a melancholy, droning-but-catchy classic.

drop nineteens

Some songs of the period that would make an excellent shoegaze compilation (with the disclaimer than not all are technically shoegaze songs):
* My Bloody Valentine – Thorn

* Ride – Vapour Trail

* Lush – De-Luxe

* Slowdive – Slowdive

* Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas

* Chapterhouse – Breather

* Curve – Ten Little Girls

* Boo Radleys – Lazy Day

* The House of Love – Christine

* Pale Saints – Half-Life

* Drop Nineteens – Winona

* The Wendys – Pulling My Fingers Off

* Moose – Suzanne

* Cranes – Thursday

* My Bloody Valentine – When You Sleep

* Slowdive – Souvlaki Space Station

* Ride – Today

* Lush – Thoughtforms

* The House of Love – Destroy the Heart

* Curve – The Coast is Clear

* Pale Saints – Throwing Back the Apple

* Codeine – D

* Moose – Untitled Love Song

* My Bloody Valentine – Slow